Analysing Parliamentary Debate with Computer Assistance

Authors

  • Judith Bara,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of London and University of Essex
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Judith Bara is a member of the Department of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and a Senior Research Fellow in Government at the University of Essex. A Principal Investigator with the Comparative Manifestos Project, her main research interests are the changing nature of party policy and ideology, the interface between party and citizen public policy priorities and how far governments honour their election pledges. Among her recent publications are the joint-authored (with Hans Dieter Klingemann, Andrea Volkens, Ian Budge and Michael McDonald) Mapping Policy Preferences II: Estimates for Parties, Elections and Governments in Eastern Europe, European Union and OECD 1990-2003 (Oxford University Press, 2006) and the jointly edited (with Albert Weale) Democratic Politics and Party Competition (Routledge,2006).

  • Albert Weale,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of London and University of Essex
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Albert Weale has been Professor of Government and co-editor of the British Journal of Political Science at the University of Essex since 1992. Before his appointment at Essex, he was Professor of Politics at the University of East Anglia (1985-92), and before that Lecturer in Politics (1976-85)and Assistant Director of the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (1982-85) at the University of York. His principal publications are in the fields of political theory and public policy and include Equality and Social Policy (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), Political Theory and Social Policy (Macmillan 1983), The New Politics of Pollution (Manchester University Press, 1992), with others, The Theory of Choice (Blackwell 1992), Democracy (Macmillan 1999 and 2007), with others, Environmental Governance in Europe (Oxford University Press 2000), and Democratic Citizenship and the European Union (Manchester University Press 2005), as well as articles in journals.

  • Aude Bicquelet

    Corresponding author
    1. University of London and University of Essex
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Aude Bicquelet is a Ph.D. Candidate of the Department of Government at Essex University and is also a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Her main research interests include democratic theory, comparative politics and computer-based methods in textual analysis.


Department of Politics, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK. Phone: +44 (0) 2078 825 069; Fax: +44 (0) 2078 827 855; Email: j.l.bara@.mul.ac.uk

Department of Government, University of Essex, Colchester, CO4 5RN, UK. Phone: +44 (0) 1206 872 127; Fax: +44 (0) 1206 873 234; Email: weala@essex.ac.uk

Department of Government, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, UK. Phone: +44 (0) 1206 874 587; Fax: +44 (0) 1206 873 234; Email: abic.u@essex.ac.uk

Abstract

The analysis of parliamentary debates is at the confluence of a number of developments in political science. What light can automated and semi-automated techniques throw on such analysis? In this paper we compare two such approaches, one semi-automated (Hamlet) and the other fully automated (Alceste). We use both approaches to identify the prominent themes in debate and to assess how far speakers who favour different positions adopt a distinct pattern of discourse. We seek to assess how far the two approaches yield convergent or divergent analyses. Selecting a second reading debate from the UK House of Commons on a private member's bill on abortion in July 1966, we are able to show similarities of analysis despite the detailed differences between the two approaches. In particular, the analysis in Hamlet al.lows identification of the extent to which individual speakers employ one type of vocabulary rather than another. Alceste is able to provide a statistical basis for the different classes of vocabulary that occur in the debate. However, the two programs rest upon quite different assumptions about the relationship between syntax and meaning, with implications for the practice of political science.

Ancillary